Walk on the Wild Side – Lou Reed – 1972

Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side – a musical highlight of 1972, there can be no doubt.

from the very first bass slide…

Don’t you love songs that are immediately recognisable? Of course there are dozens, maybe thousands of them. I think immediately of The Stones’, Brown Sugar; or The Shocking Blue’s, Venus; or even Abba’s Waterloo.

But, one of the classiest must surely be the C – F bass slide of Lou Reed’s, Walk on the Wild Side.

so, i’m back to the velvet underground

Lewis “Lou” Reed turned 70 earlier this year (2012). His musical life is both well documented and well-known. He began as the guitarist/vocalist for US band, The Velvet Underground; a band with limited commercial success but a huge cult following and producers of some fine music.

In 1971 Lou went solo.  He continued to write as he had for The Velvet Underground exploring themes such as sexuality and the drug culture. Walk on the Wild Side is his only real hit and yet he is, deservedly, held in high regard as a musician and songwriter.

Walk on the Wild Side tells the stories of a series of people who journey to New York. Many of the names in the song refer to real people who were regulars at Andy Warhol’s New York studio, The Factory. Mentioned in the song are Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, Joe Dallesandro, Jackie Curtis and Joe Campbell (who is referred to by his nickname Sugar Plum Fairy).

reed trivia

Now, here’s something I didn’t know – - Lou is married to Laurie Anderson (two rather strange but talented people together!!).

holly’s story…(she came from Miami, FLA)…

In an interview with The Guardian published December 13, 2008, Holly Woodlawn said:

My father got a job at a hotel, so we moved from New York to Miami Beach. I was going to school, getting stones thrown at me and being beaten up by homophobic rednecks. I felt I deserved better, and I hated football and baseball. So, aged 15, I decided to get the hell out of there and ran away from home. I had $27, so hitchhiked across the USA. I did pluck my eyebrows in Georgia. It hurt! My friend Georgette was plucking them and I was screaming, but all of a sudden I had these gorgeous eyebrows and she put mascara on my eyes. We ran into some marines in Lafayette in South Carolina. They tried to attack me. I was 15 and not used to this stuff. I was sitting in a car with this marine, terrified that he was going to rape me and kill me. I said, ‘I’ve never done this before.’ He said, ‘You don’t wanna have sex with me?’ I said it wasn’t that I didn’t find him attractive, I just didn’t want to do it. But he was wonderful. He protected me. While Georgette was in a motel screaming and yelling with 18 marines but having a good time, he said, ‘When you’re with me, nothing will happen to you.’ And they drove us all the way to New Jersey.

In New York I was living on the street. Then I met Jackie Curtis and Candy Darling, and they’d watch Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo movies at 1am. There was this club called Max’s Kansas City. Jackie and Candy had just done this movie called Flesh, and they said, ‘You have to meet Andy [Warhol]. He’s gonna make you a superstar.’

I didn’t want to be a superstar. My wig looked like yak hair. One day Jackie put on a show and I was in the chorus. I saw this bag of glitter and a jar of Vaseline, and smeared myself with it and got this boyfriend to throw the glitter on me. [Director] Paul Morrissey said, ‘I don’t know who she is but she’s a star.’ Next thing Paul’s calling me up to star in a movie called Trash, and the rest is history.

One day a friend called me and said, ‘Turn on the radio!’ They were playing ‘Walk On The Wild Side.’ The funny thing is that, while I knew the Velvet Underground’s music, I’d never met Lou Reed. I called him up and said, ‘How do you know this stuff about me?’ He said, ‘Holly, you have the biggest mouth in town.’ We met and we’ve been friends ever since.

and the coloured girls go…

Walk on the Wild Side somehow flew under the censorship radar that shot down so many 70s songs. It mentioned subjects as varied as trans-sexuality, drugs, male prostitutes and oral sex. Only the Americans heard the lyric clearly. In the US, an edited version of the song was released as a single removing the reference to oral sex.

walk on the wild side fax

  • Walk on the Wild Side is from Lou Reed’s Transformer album. The B-side features the uber-fantastico Perfect Day.
  • David Bowie produced Walk on the Wild Side and the wonderful sax solo is by Ronnie Ross who was David Bowie’s childhood saxophone teacher. The bass is played by the renowned Herbie Flowers.
  • While, no doubt, many people have sung Walk on the Wild Side, I can think of no notable cover versions. Although, Young@Heart perform Walk on the Wild Side in concert and U2 sang it as a refrain to Bad during Live Aid in 1985.
  • In The Simpsons’ episode Selma’s Choice, the singers at Duff Gardens perform a kid-friendly version of Walk On The Wild Side.
  • From memory, on the album cover it states that “the coloured girls” are David Bowie and Mick Ronson.
  • Walk on the Wild Side lyrics.

walk on the wild side – lou reed – 1972 – video - live

walk on the wild side – lou reed – 1972 – video – studio version

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2 Responses to Walk on the Wild Side – Lou Reed – 1972

  1. wozza says:

    Goodish song GK, I agree, but the Transformer album is a complete crock of you know what. Put me off big time and only the sublime Rock’n’Roll Animal live album does it for me by Mr Reed.

    You’ve tracked the recent deaths well but you missed (I think – don’t recall you mentioning it) the sublime Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn who took his bass guitar to rock’n’roll heaven on May 13th. It didn’t make much of a news splash but for me he’s way more musically important that the higher profile ones.

    • Greg.K. says:

      I didn’t know about Donald Dunn’s death. To be honest I didn’t even know he was still playing and touring.
      I just knew him as Booker T and the MG’s bassman.
      Man – not a great week for music fans – Peter Jones passed away also.
      G.

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